When the Corn Died: Chapter Sixteen
We Pick up Our Story
The Harpers have arrived in Wenatchee, Washington, hoping for a new start with better fortune. Their timing was exquisite as Peter Harper and his son immediately found work at the B & B Produce Company, and the women, Evelyn and Emma, have found a fallen angel to help at Appleby’s General Store.
Let’s peek in and see what’s happening.
Two Weeks Later
It’s a busy time of year in Wenatchee, that’s for damn sure. Peter Junior and me have been working sun-up to sun-down ever since we hit town, boxing apples, preparing them for shipment, loading them on rail cars and trucks, dust in the air, hotter than Hades, sweat pouring off us, all for twenty-five cents an hour thanks to President Roosevelt setting a minimum wage. Otis Armstrong, our foreman, grumbles about the high wages which is pretty funny since it don’t come from his pocket and these apples are flying out of here, meaning someone is buying them and profits are being made up top the ladder.
We’re damned grateful to be working. Still, I can’t help but wonder what happens when the last apple has been shipped and business dies down for the winter. Will we be kept on? Sure could use a job this winter; expenses of living don’t stop just because the corn died and the apples no longer grow on the branches.
Evelyn just says to stop my worrying, things will work out, have faith in the Lord and in our family, and I know her words to be true but still, a man has to worry some over his family or what else is there?
It was lunchtime one day in late September. Peter Junior and I had taken our lunches down to the river bank, as we normally do, and we were sitting under a giant oak when Otis Armstrong came walking up.
“Excuse me for interrupting your break, gentlemen. I just wanted to give you a glimpse of the future here at B & B’s. When winter comes we cut our workforce in half. Don’t have much choice, really. No produce to ship for eight months, and during the winter we really just repair equipment and make sure we’re ready for the next season, so don’t need as many men.”
I wasn’t likin’ the direction of this conversation but managed to keep my mouth shut and let Armstrong deliver the news.
“That being said, a man would be a damned fool to let go two hard workers like you two, so I’m here to let you know you’ve got jobs over the winter. If you want them, that is.”
I looked at my son and he was smiling back at me. He nodded then I turned back to Otis.
“We’re mighty appreciative, Otis, and we accept. Thank you kindly!”
I could hardly wait to get home, even though that meant Evelyn telling me she told me so with that devil smile on her face.
Meanwhile, at Appleby’s
The last two weeks had been a time of mercy for Evelyn and Emma. Without a plan being made or a hand being shook, it just became common for the two women to show up at Appleby’s about opening time and help out at the store. Evelyn would usually help Victor (Mr. Appleby) get the store ready for customers and Emma would go to the back room to take care of Mrs. Appleby (Rose). Little Timothy would help out where needed and he was a particular blessing with Mrs. Appleby, she with no children of her own and finding great comfort in that little boy with the blessed smile.
Rose had a weak heart, for lack of a better description, and she was weak most the time, her breath short, her color poor, but she was a loving woman who adored her husband and she was weighed down with guilt over the worry her health was causing her good man.
And yes, he was worried, so much so that he decided, after discussing matters with his wife, to approach Evelyn with a proposition one late-September morning. He found her sorting through sundries with the help of little Timothy.
“Evelyn, might I have a word with you?”
She wiped her hands on her apron and stood.
“Of course, Victor. What can I do for you?”
“It’s what you’ve done for us, Evelyn, you and Emma and this wonderful boy. I was talking to my Rose last night and we feel we are the luckiest people on earth. In two week’s time your family has entered our lives and helped us so much, and we want to repay that kindness if you’ll allow us to do so.”
“My goodness, Victor, kindness is not done with expectations of repayment. You know that as well as I do. We’re just happy to help you kind folks.”
“Be that as it may, Evelyn, but Rose and me still want to extend a hand of help to you. We have some acreage outside of town, out on Haymaker’s Road. At one time, when we first moved here from Pennsylvania, back in ’18, we had visions of owning us a farm and growing apples, but then this opportunity came up and we bought this store and the farm, well, it just sits there unattended. We were wondering if your family would like to live on that farm. It’s only got a two-room cabin on it, but it’s just short of seventy-five acres up on the bluff, good soil, the kind of soil if treated right will produce for a man. And it’s got a barn and a stream on it and, well, Rose and me would be honored if your family lived there and worked it in your spare time. One stipulation, though: I could still use some help here at the store.”
There wasn’t much needed to be said to all that. Evelyn’s tears said it all.
At the End of the Day
Peter Junior and I were just wrapping up the day at the warehouse. The sun was fading fast, cutting into the heat, allowing a man to breathe, when Evelyn, Emma and Timothy appeared outside the warehouse in our old pickup truck. I kissed my wife and felt her love and strength flow through me.
“You and Junior hop in the back, husband. We have a surprise to show you.”
Twenty years of marriage to Evelyn taught me to not ask questions when her jaw was set and she had that devilish look in her eyes, so we did as instructed and held on as Evelyn drove us north out of town along a road named Haymaker’s. We’d been driving for about fifteen minutes when she turned off on a driveway that led under a canopy of elm trees and finally came to an end at a weathered cabin.
There was a barn a hundred yards out back and what looked to be several hundred apple trees in various stages if neglect, their branches weighted down with unpicked fruit. Evelyn shut down the engine and got out of the cab. We all did the same and stood looking at the cabin.
“What’s this, Evelyn?” I asked.
The smile returned. With glistening eyes she looked at me.
“This is home, husband, and all around us is love.”
See You Next Week
Judging from your comments you are enjoying this family, the Harpers, and you are enjoying them for the same reasons I have enjoyed my family over the years. They are good people, simple people, people who believe in the power of love and the importance of kindness and respect.
So, for them, I thank you, and I’ll see you next week with another installment of the Harper story.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)